Beyond resilience

“Resilience” is having its moment, just at “unprecedented” did before it (and if 2020 continues its current trajectory, “apocalypse” will have soon enough).  The thought is that if we stoic up and stiffen that upper lip, we can plow through to the other side of this.  After all, the root of “resilience” literally means leaping back.

Well, heck with that.  (I would say stronger than that, but this is a family blog; some of you say you read this to your children when they’ve had trouble sleeping or have been very bad.)

We got into this business because we didn’t want things to keep being as they were.  We saw something in the world that we felt was not right; we then said that the world will not be thus within the reach of my hand.

So why would we work to spring back to our old shape when there’s the opportunity for a synthesis between old and new? 

There’s certainly going to be things we want to leave behind.  The number of people who enjoy trying to homeschool children while on a board conference call is approximately the same as those who enjoy getting surgery with a weedwhacker.

But what do we want to take with us?  A few thoughts…

The knowledge of what works and does not work online.  We know so much of communication is non-verbal.  My guess is that we won’t go back to faceless conference calls, shifting by and large to videoconferences where we can see each other.  When we aren’t present, this is the next best thing.

However, we’ve also realized the limits of this.  The modern videoconference call works much like Bentham’s panopticon, a thought-experiment prison where you could control all the prisoners with one guard because the prisoners never knew when they were being watched.  We feel the fatigue of being “on” all the time.  You can tell it’s bad when even the extroverts need time away from people to recharge.  Hopefully, we evolve toward recognizing this need for downtime in our company policies (or perhaps an amendment to the Geneva Convention).

It’s the donor not the channel.  How many event donors did folks lose because they were donors to the event, not the cause?  Conversely, some organizations moved seamlessly (in 2020-adjusted terms) from canvassing to DRTV.  The offer and need were still there, so the media just changed.

Keeping this fluidity should only benefit us going forward.  Too often, we’ve tolerated underinvestment in some changes or lack of balance between new acquisition and reactivation because that’s how it’s been done.  One prominent organization, for example, has a board-imposed rule that digital donors must break even within 12 months, but can make longer-term investments in other channels.  What we’ve gone through has shown the artificiality of such rules and how investment should be able to go where it will do the most good.

It’s the why, not the how.  A Charities Aid Foundation survey (of mostly smaller charities) has found that over half of them have started new programs because of COVID-19 with efforts like home delivery of items, remote learning, virtual therapy, and more.

One would hope these efforts take their place alongside traditional services when we are through.  Some people don’t have the time or money to get to physical service and others live too far away from population centers.  We can serve these people using new techniques.

We’re in this together.  During the Cold War, Reagan and Gorbachev discussed how (and whether) the two superpowers would team up if threatened by aliens.  The point is that small differences—programs versus fundraising, finances versus overhead ratios, organization versus organization—can melt away when facing an external foe. 

During COVID-19, we’ve all been part of Team Human.  Most of us changed our behaviors significantly to help battle an enemy that threatens us all.  Within our organizations (hopefully), we pulled together to address unique times in the same way.

It would be a pity to lose this.  It’s our hope the bonds built in foxholes survive to better times.

What other things are you taking with you?  Would love to hear from you at  Thanks!

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